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Ravens at Work: Video guru Jay O'Brien looks forward to his own version of game day

Jay O'Brien, the Ravens vice president of broadcasting and, as he talks about the new fan experience at M&T Bank Stadium with the enhanced video boards that were added. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

Every week during the season, The Baltimore Sun will spotlight how a member of the Ravens organization does his or her job.

At approximately 4:10 on Sunday afternoon, as fans bustle through the exits at M&T Bank Stadium, Jay O'Brien will allow himself to collapse on the couch in his office. The manic energy of an NFL game day will slowly seep from his body.

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For about five minutes.

And then his internal clock will crank forward to begin the cycle anew. What intriguing tidbits might players spill in the postgame locker room? What game clips will make the best social media GIFs or the best fodder for the three television shows the Ravens produce every week? What could he have done better during the previous 3½ hours to help fans engage with the action on the field?

O'Brien does not play or coach professional football, and he's loathe to compare himself with those who do. But the enthusiastic, slightly built Loyola Maryland graduate does exist on the same 24/7 treadmill that peaks on game day. And just as the guys in helmets will delight in running out for the home fans on Sunday, O'Brien will relish his first opportunity to take the training wheels off his colossal new toys — the 7,200-square-foot, ultra-high definition video boards on either end of the stadium.

O'Brien, 34, is the organization's vice president for broadcasting and game day productions. And as such, he'll stand at the helm of the 60-person control booth operating the new displays, which are more than twice as large as their predecessors. Most of his anxiety about the new equipment has dissipated, he said, after dress rehearsals during the team's open stadium practices and two preseason home games.

But that won't stop him from arriving at 6 a.m. Sunday, a full seven hours before kickoff against the Cleveland Browns.

"By then, the show will be ready, so I'll just stir for a while," he said, grinning. "A lot of pacing. I should really wear a Fitbit."

There are hundreds of details to consider: different network broadcast crews require different accommodations, each element of player introductions needs to hit a specific time cue, the overhead SkyCam has to be out of the way so Challenger the bald eagle can fly unimpeded during the national anthem.

O'Brien's adrenaline will surge when the curtain-opening video for the team pops onto the big screens. But once the players have emerged from the tunnel, his mind turns to the game.

"What's the first replay going to be? And if we're on defense, what is my first crowd prompt?" he said.

O'Brien thinks a lot about how to remain unobtrusive with his messages to the fans. He finds "get loud" prompts borderline insulting. Often, he said, the best crowd fuel is a simple shot of Terrell Suggs, waving his arms before an impending third down.

He cherishes his memories of the 2011 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers during which "Seven Nation Army" became an unofficial anthem for the team. But he's also cognizant that the song has hit the overkill stage for many viewers. So he'll try to play it judiciously.

"It's something we've had many conversations about," he said.

Almost everything will be bigger in 2017, not just the boards.

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Footage will flow in from 25 cameras, up from seven last season. Fans always want more replays, so O'Brien plans to show two instead of one after almost every play this season. That will require five staffers instead of the customary two.

O'Brien's total game-day crew has doubled.

And yet he has to accept that no amount of preparation will eliminate the unanticipated quirks that come with each game.

A few years ago, for example, the sound in the stadium conked out entirely for part of a quarter.

"That was probably the scariest it's ever been in the control room," O'Brien said. "Any stadium experience is pretty weird if during the commercials, during the timeouts, there's no music, no anything."

After the rush of a home game is past, O'Brien will usually remain in the stadium to watch the 4 p.m. broadcasts and then go home to watch Sunday Night Football. He takes in each telecast with an eye for features the Ravens might borrow. He also travels to away games to take notes on opposing teams' presentations.

On Monday morning, he watches a full replay of the previous day's stadium show, usually coming away with three pages of notes in a Microsoft Word document.

Maybe they didn't have the right video clip to accentuate a given moment. Or perhaps a font was difficult to read from across the stadium.

This is where O'Brien sounds most like a coach.

"We are our biggest critics," he said. "But I'm sure football is, too. They won 20-0, but they're probably grading out the tape, saying, 'Man, one more block here and that springs.' We grade our tape probably the same way they grade theirs."

He also sounds like a coach when he describes how often he's away from his wife, Alex, whom he met at Loyola, and the couple's young daughter and son.

His brother is getting married in a remote part of Vermont on Thanksgiving weekend, two days before the Ravens host a Monday night game.

"Could you have picked a harder time?" O'Brien asked.

"Man, come on, you're not Joe Flacco," his brother shot back.

But O'Brien regards such anxieties as a fair price for his dream job. He has a poster on the wall of his makeshift office at the team's complex in Owings Mills that reads: "This is your LIFE. Do what you love and do it often."

The job was quite different when he started with the Ravens in 2004 as an intern working for college credit. In those days, the NFL didn't provide each team with a weekly highlights package. So the Ravens simply recorded their own games off television, and O'Brien's job was to find clips that weren't marred by the broadcast network's graphics.

No one had any inkling of an internet that would merrily gobble up every bit of media the Ravens could produce, from game footage, to features on players engaging with the community to offbeat social media posts.

"We barely had a website," O'Brien said.

Now, game day is just the tip of the spear. Less than 24 hours after the Ravens shut out the Cincinnati Bengals in their 2017 opener, the beast is hungry for more content. O'Brien and his staff are planted at their monitors, devising ways to feed it.

But just like the football men in their offices a floor below, they don't seem to mind.

"It's really fun on a day like today," O'Brien said.

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